Thursday, December 5, 2013

Freezing Rain Reflection

Has it really been 2 months since I last blogged? Eek gads. Where to even begin?

Frost & weather reports:
First frost: October 25th
First killing frost: November 11th

We had several evenings in the teens, followed by a week in the 50s-60's and now we are facing another week below freezing with a "wintery mix" that has begun (yesterday was 65F) with a thin sheet of pellets.

NOAA seasonal forecast says that the midwest will have an equal chance of both above or below normal conditions so...whatever that means.

Raised bed reports
The lettuces under cover in the brick bed are thriving. I cover them with an old heating blanket when it dipped in the teens and mulched around them with leaves. The seedlings (rutabaga, turnips) that were in the other brick bed have disappeared. Initially I had poor germination and then the rollies ate what was there and then they disappeared all together. I'm having more and more troubles with the rollies this year. I can't seem to keep seedlings or young starts. I guess I have too much mulch/protection for them.

Hoophouse report
The hoop house is doing great. It withstood some crazy winds that resulted in complete destruction of it last year. I only had to do a little tucking back into place this time. The ground has still not frozen inside. It can get incredibly warm in there on sunny days and at least one time ( a night around 14) I saw the first frost on the parsley (but near the doorway). Otherwise, seeds are germinating, stuff is growing (albeit slowly) and I'm harvesting kale, chard, parsley and cilantro. I am having problems with either or both rollies and slugs. I don't know what happened to my 3 toads, but they aren't doing their job!

I think the key is, and this is difficult to do, but to start seedlings earlier (during the heat and drought of the summer). The most successful plants are the kale and these were the ones the plants self-sowed themselves. Many of my transplants have been eaten or aren't growing quick enough to harvest. The peas are still growing and I hope to have an early crop from them. I should probably start more on the south side wall.

I've been amazed at the success of starting seeds in there. I think everything I started has germinated. The benefit of the seedlings in the containers raised off of the ground is that the rollies haven't discovered them either.
Stuff I'm eating in November.
Suggestions for next year:
Start winter seedlings earlier- probably will have to do this in the basement since it is so hot & dry outside late summer. Grow more peas in hoop. Have a pot of green onions in the hoop. The ones growing in the garden have been good, but the days in the teens frostbit the growing tips back. Keep more herbs in the hoop- parsley, thyme, marjoram, oregano, cilantro, etc. Add another shelf in the hoop for vertical gardening- gives more growing space w/o changing the footprint of the hoophouse.
Harvest more green maters. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I've actually been good at keeping up with eating them and not letting them rot in the basement this year AND they have been delish. How special is it to have fresh salsa in November?
100% fresh and homegrown salsa in November

 Hoophouse Dreams
    Lots of seedlings coming up in litter buckets.   

          Cilantro, spinach, lettuces, broc, pansies

           Happy Pansies                                                            

                                            Kale havested

Ginger slowly growing

 I need to have these every winter

Experimental yogurt cheese from 2lb container Greek yogurt.
Mix 3/4 tsp salt. Drain in cheesecloth, twisting tighter several times over 2-3 days.
Very nice on toast. 

Meager potato harvest. Kennebecs. I'll keep trying. The sweet potato harvest yield- 2, 5gallon buckets. Most had split, but were large. I started with 1 bundle of Georgia Jet starts.

                                              Made some Rhus Juice from sumac berries we collected on
         our Thanksgiving hike, mashed in warm water, 
strained and added honey. Good!

Try to appreciate the fine and rare things of winter. 
Until next post-Peace.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Happy Fall in the Garden

Just a few quick updates.

I have waited to harvest the mother load of peppers until many were red. It also means I can process the greatest number at once. I use these mainly for these 3 purposes: beans & rice, soups, breakfast taters.
I think I should plant an entire garden bed of assorted peppers next year and stake them! Most of these were weighing the plants down.

Pepper harvest:
Includes Red Marconi, Jimmy Nardello frying peppers, Friariello di Napoli, bananas, bells.

Prepping for freezing: 
Wash cycle

Chop and spread on cookie sheet for freezing.
Once frozen through store in freezer bags.

While I'm at it- saving seed.
I've decided I need to do more of this. The best reason
to start keeping seed is that I should be able to establish my own
ecotype strain of plants that do best in my garden over time.

This Pandora Striped Rose eggplant got huge, but didn't produce a lot of fruit. I grew 3 varieties of eggplant this year and the Japanese types did the best. I think I should just stick with those. I'd also like to grow more eggplant next year. 

Seedling progress. At least some of all of the seed I started in pots is up now- leeks, spinach, kale, pak choi, broccoli, parsley, cilantro and lettuce. In the raised beds the turnips and rutabaga have germinated and in the hoop house some seedlings of either or both kale and sprouting broccoli have germinated. I'm still waiting to see if any of my Cascadia Peas come up. 

Hoop house slow progress:
Still collecting brick. Planted 1 parsley, 6 bright lights chard and 3 tree collards.
Seedlings popping up on right side. 

Harvested Oaxacan Green corn. 
Traditionally used by the Zapotec Indians of S Mexico 
for green tamales.

Harvest 11 unknown volunteer squash that came up in the compost
I had spread in the garden. Maybe I should save some seed. 
It's obviously more productive than anything I've ever tried to intentionally grow!

Chickens say- Happy Fall Ya'll!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Take Two

I kill plants. I mess up. Stuff doesn't work the way I think it should. I try again. This is gardening.

Take two. I ordered all of my seed in time. I planted all kinds of wonderful fall stuff and then it stopped raining. I don't think we had any measurable rain in August. I heard it was the 3rd driest on record. Geesh.
And this stuff started leaking from the gutters today:
Unknown clear liquid running from the gutters.

I started some seeds properly in pots and then the slugs or rollies ate them. Why not? They were the most luscious stuff around. Tender, juicy and all in one pot- what more is there to love? So I've replanted.
Lettuces, leafing cabbage, spinach, cilantro, kale, chinese kale, leeks....

Another Take Two: I dream of hoop and green houses. Not kidding. I built a super mini hoop house last September and then some crazy ass winds shredded the plastic one day and all was pretty shot. I'm building it up more this year and it will be bigger AND better. Cross fingers.

Last year:
This hoop house/high tunnel was 4.5ft x 11ft

This year I've widened it (thus lowering it), and adding wood. I started this morning and then the rain came. Hallelujah!
This year:
This one is 7ft X 11ft. 
I'm going to add lots of structural support with a 2 x 4 frame + door and end supports. The beds will be slightly raised. I'm thinking of putting down a stone path for added heat absorption/radiation, possibly cattle fencing & tulle over before adding the plastic. The cattle fence adds support and possibly used for summer climbing veg and the tulle would help if I wanted to grow squash or eggplant next summer in here. I could always add the tulle in spring however. 

I saw a great use for old hose cut into about 5 inch sections, cut down the middle and used for clamping the plastic to the conduit. It would be free compared to the cost of either greenhouse clips or binder clips (which I've used in the past). I also tried hair clips with little success. Another good idea I saw was running a line of rope tying the conduit together for horizontal support. I may do that if I don't do the cattle fencing. 

After a cool summer, followed by a very hot and dry late summer I am ready for cooler days and a new garden. 

Get deals now:
I picked up this pathetic Habaneros in a 3-pack for pennies. I stuck them in this pot for overwintering. Poor things each had 1 big fruit on them. I should pick them, but they are kind of neat. It's a good time to find end of season deals on annuals, as well as options from the orphan stands at the box stores. 

I know I'm not the only one happy about the rain.

I kill plants. I mess up. Stuff doesn't work the way I think it should. I try again. This is gardening. 
You should try it. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Oldies

It seems appropriate that I'm bottling, freezing and generally preserving end of season harvest whilst listening to the oldies, which is now the 60's & 70's. Yup, that's right. I can remember when the oldies were 40's & 50's. Ah well.

After that spectacular summer of cool temps we hit upper 90's in late August. We caught a break on Labor Day in the mid-80s and hopefully maintaining this through the week, but we haven't had much for rain in several weeks. I haven't watered the garden and things are definitely on the decline, such as cucumbers and summer squashes, but they definitely put out a great harvest this year! What I didn't eat/pickle the chickens have enjoyed. I hacked down a bunch of shrubby lamb's quarter this morning before the mosquitoes got unbearable. Still going are: eggplant, lemon squash, peppers, beans, basil, Mexican sour gherkin, winter squashes and the flowers.

I had started some seeds for a fall garden and the slugs or rolly pollies got them. Now it is too dry to start seed in the garden.

So now, the Beatles are playing and I'm putting up or putting by, whichever you fancy.

Apricot Wine
This has been brewing since mid-June when I got a big old box for $5 at Soulard Market. I
bottled it today. True Brews says to bottle it like you would beer. I'm not sure why, but it is nice to have in small serving sizes. Nice color.
The bottled results. Notice the clearest 2 in the middle were the ones I bottled first. The last pours were on the ends and you can see it is darker with more suspended sediment. 

Freezer Pesto
I noticed my first planted basil plant was getting woody, starting to flower and wilt so I cut it all down for freezer jar pesto. I'm hoping to do some more freezer jarred stuff. We'll see how this jar holds.

Freezer bound romas
I will freeze these solid and then bag for later use.

Morning's Harvest
A variety of maters, yum yum peppers and 2 varieties of eggplant.

Harvest before the heat & drought (2 wks ago)

Wildlife News: 
I've seen a record number of toads and southern leopard frogs in the yard this summer. I'm assuming it was the consistent rain we had. I saw one garter snake in the garden too. 

Leopard Frog 

Pipevine Swallowtail

Feeling today:
Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

Monday, July 29, 2013

70's in July?

We had a week in the 80's. It was nice. Now we are experiencing a week in the 70's. Are you kidding me? I wore flannel all weekend. I actually started to wonder about how it would impact my peppers and tomatoes. Is it too cool? Never had that thought in July before. The worrying is ending there too. I'll take these last 2 weeks of weather any July without issue.

Lots going on. Today I sowed seeds in the garden or pots- spinach, collards, kale, carrots, turnips and rutabagas. A few days ago I sewed some okra seeds. We are due for rain today through tomorrow and then back in the mid-80's.

Tomato harvest is about 5.5lbs each harvest, which is every couple of days. Most of the maters are Black Plum or Black Russian, Ivory Egg and German Lunchbox. I've started to get some Gypsy, which are pink, squat and small. They are acidic and prone to cracking. I'm taking them off of my list. Adding to my must keep list are the Ivory Eggs.
The Ivory Eggs are the yellow, egg-shaped ones.
Peppers are also coming in. Eggplants are small yet. 

I roasted the tomatoes, almost cut all the way through down the middle. When done, stuffed them with a mix of garlic, aleppo pepper, salt and thyme and marinated them in olive oil. Allow to marinate in fridge at least 24 hrs. I crushed them and put them on crusty bread with melted smoked cheese and some sliced olives. Rave reviews from the the housemates.

Lemon squashes are arriving. I picked this variety because
Baker's Creek said it was very productive and one of the most resistant to bugs. 
It is more sprawling than your typical summer squash.

I roasted the squashes and red onion and made a lasagna with tofu. 

Patisson Strie Melange- scallop squash
Yellow Crooknecks
All of the squashes are doing well under the tulle. 
Although, I did notice one seemed to have rust on the leaves. 

The cowpeas I bought from Baker's Creek, Old Timer, were described as being a bush size.
They are climbers. I didn't plant for that, so now they are ramblers. This is my first harvest of varying
maturities. I found a recipe for a Tunisian Tagine that called for white beans so I shelled and used these instead. It was outstanding! I did not use the cheddar cheese called for because it didn't seem to fit and I subbed berbere spice for the paprika (also seemed more authentic). Pre-bake it looks like this:
It's gorgeous and puffy when it comes out of the oven (and smells as lovely), but I didn't get a post-pic because we were too hungry. 

The above amount of unshelled beans yielded:
When these are dry they are tinier and mottled brown. Pretty.

Mom and kiddo picked thornless blackberries. They weren't much on flavor so 
I mashed them up for jam. 

I roasted a tray of maters, one large red onion and four jalapenos, blended them up with salt, a few dashes of smoked paprika and a little cumin for this salsa or sauce. It's fairly hot as I didn't seed the peppers. 

Can you tell I am on summer break? 
Classes ended Thursday and I've got 3 weeks to squeeze in some pleasure. 
So- more projects! I'm really happy about this one:
Part of my new fence. The color was inspired by Hayefield's Nancy Ondra and her rust colored fence, which seemed to go well with her log cabin and all of the colors of her flowers. I guess rust goes with anything?
And another quick project of random scraps:
The "new" wren house. I was inspired by a house wren gathering twigs this week.
Is the cool weather making them broody? Wren houses are suppose to be 4 inches tall, wide and deep and this can fit the bill. 

I had an idea to clean out the coralberry bed one evening. The next day I went out to inspect it and 
I found it was covered in tiny blooms AND all sorts of pollinators- hover flies, small bumbles and these bee-mimicing flies. I saw two different varieties of these flies this weekend. The other one was all over the calamint. Needless to say, my plan was promptly thwarted. The pollinators are much too important.
Fly that mimics bees

See the hover fly on the right and the fly butt above?
The bumbles would come in from below making it impossible to photograph.

Here is a closer shot of those tiny, but awesome flowers.

A mess of calamint, snapdragons and agastache.

 Nicotiana- Fragrant Cloud

Prairie Dock 

Brown Eyed Susans 

The last tiger lily. 

A friend let me know about some bee research going on at U of I where you can submit your
photos and they will id your bee and in turn keep track of pollinators throughout the state. It's called
Beespotter. So far it is only open to Illinois residents. I submitted 5 photos and found out I had 4 different species in them. Yay for Citizen Science!

A kid plays in the wilderness of Foggy Bottom Refuge.